[P6513] Crime in the Archives

Created by Emily Drumsta
Friday, 12/03/21 2:00 pm


This panel brings together multiple disciplinary and methodological perspectives on crime across the Middle East in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As both a phenomenon and a discourse, crime illuminates tensions within and challenges to dominant social, economic, and political orders. States often draw on the language of crime to name problems and propose their solutions. In Iran, for example, the changes in language and moral logic that accompanied the 1979 revolution did not disrupt the state’s turn to surveillance, categorization, and incarceration as a way of turning bad criminals into good citizens, effecting individual change but also transforming society at large. In Lebanon, meanwhile, a genealogy of “environmental crime” sheds light on the state’s denial of popular sovereignty over the Litani River basin, criminalizing its stakeholding publics (farmers, businesses, municipalities, and refugees) as part of a longer history of monopolizing natural resources. Yet states are not the only actors able to mobilize discourses of crime, nor are their efforts to do so impervious to alternative interpretations and imaginations of the relationship between law, state, community, and justice. Unofficial representations of disruptive, “criminal” acts thus serve as a way to articulate broader challenges to the established order. Popular fascination with the bandit Abu Jilda in 1930s Palestine, for example, tells us much about the charged atmosphere among Palestine’s Arab population on the cusp of the Great Revolt of 1936–39; writers, publishers, and audiences reveled in the titillating details of Abu Jilda’s (factual and fictionalized) exploits, which humiliated British authorities, embarrassed Arab leaders, and emphasized rural Palestinians’ honor and cunning. Following the January 2011 Egyptian uprising and the reassertion of counterrevolutionary military rule, prominent Egyptian novels have used crimes against individual bodies, against land and environment, and against society to articulate a dystopian vision of a post-2011 Egypt. Bringing together approaches rooted in critical carceral studies, environmental and social history, and literary analysis, this panel not only represents the variety of ways in which crime can be read, but also its ubiquity—as a focus of states and stakeholders, as phenomenon and symbol, and as an object of individual and collective fear, curiosity, loathing, and desire. Crime permeates and produces archives of all kinds. Careful and creative examination of these archives, as undertaken in this panel, thus offers an opportunity to cross temporal, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries in Middle East Studies.






Emily Drumsta

(University of Texas, Austin)
Emily Drumsta is an Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies and French and Italian Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant; Organizer;

Golnar Nikpour

(Dartmouth College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Alex Winder

(Brown University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Presenter;

Owain Lawson

(Columbia University)
Owain Lawson is a Doctoral Candidate in History at Columbia University. He is a historian of environment, technology, and development in the twentieth-century Middle East. His dissertation examines the history of projects to develop the Litani river in...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Dalia Mostafa

(University of Manchester)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;